Astronomy:Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway

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The Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway (LOP-G) is a future space station in lunar orbit intended to serve as a solar-powered communications hub, science laboratory, short-term habitation module, and holding area for rovers and other robots.[1]

While the project is led by NASA, the Gateway is meant to be developed, serviced, and utilized in collaboration with commercial and international partners. It will serve as the staging point for robotic and crewed exploration of the lunar south pole, and is the proposed staging point for NASA's Deep Space Transport concept.[2][3][4]

The science disciplines to be studied on the Gateway are expected to include planetary science, astrophysics, Earth observations, heliophysics, fundamental space biology, and human health and performance.[5] Under current plans, this scientific activity will start after the first crewed landing (Artemis 3).[citation needed]

Gateway development includes all of the International Space Station partners: ESA, NASA, Roscosmos, JAXA, and CSA. Construction is planned to take place in the 2020s.[3][6][7] The International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG), which is composed of 14 space agencies including NASA, has concluded that LOP-G will be critical in expanding a human presence to the Moon, Mars, and deeper into the Solar System.[8] Formerly known as the Deep Space Gateway, the station was renamed in NASA's 2018 proposal for the 2019 United States federal budget.[9][10] When the budgeting process was complete, US$450 million had been committed by Congress to preliminary studies.[11][12]

Contracted modules

  • The Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) started development at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory during the now canceled Asteroid Redirect Mission. The original concept was a robotic, high performance solar electric spacecraft that would retrieve a multi-ton boulder from an asteroid and bring it to lunar orbit for study.[13] When ARM was cancelled, the solar electric propulsion was repurposed for LOP-G.[14][15] The PPE will allow access to the entire lunar surface and act as a space tug for visiting craft.[16] It will also serve as the command and communications center of the Gateway.[17][18] The PPE is intended to have a mass of 8-9 t and the capability to generate 50 kW[19] of solar electric power for its ion thrusters, which can be supplemented by chemical propulsion.[20] It is targeting launch on a commercial vehicle in 2022.[21][22] In May 2019, Maxar Technologies was contracted by NASA to manufacture this module, which will also supply the station with electrical power and is based on Maxar's 1300 series satellite bus.[23] Maxar was awarded a firm-fixed price contract of $375 million to build the PPE. NASA is supplying the PPE with an S-band communications system to provide a radio link with nearby vehicles and a passive docking adapter to receive the Gateway’s future utilization module.[24]
  • The Minimal Habitation Module (MHM)[25] will be built by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (NGIS). A commercial launch vehicle will launch the MHM before the end of year 2023. The MHM is based on a Cygnus Cargo resupply module to the outside of which radial docking ports, body mounted radiators (BMRs), batteries and communications antennae will be added.[26] The MHM will be a functional pressurized volume providing sufficient command, control & data handling capabilities, energy storage and power distribution, thermal control, communications and tracking capabilities, environmental control and life support systems to augment the Orion spacecraft and support a crew of four for at least 30 days; two axial and up to two radial docking ports; stowage volume; and utilization capabilities.[26]

Current planning

March 2019 concept. The Gateway will serve as a solar-powered communications hub, science laboratory, short-term habitation module, refueling depot, and holding area for crewed and robotic landers and robots.
The Gateway advances NASA's goals of sustaining human space exploration and serves as a platform to further cislunar operations, lunar surface access and missions to Mars.
Four astronauts inside the LOP-G space station mock-up module at the Space Station Processing Facility.
NASA and Lockheed Martin employees group photo with one of the LOP-G space station modules training mock-up inside the SSPF

The LOP-G is currently intended to be placed in a highly elliptical six-day near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) around the Moon, which would bring the station within 1,500 km (930 mi) of the lunar surface at closest approach and as far away as 70,000 km (43,000 mi).[27] Traveling to and from cislunar space (lunar orbit) is intended to develop the knowledge and experience necessary to venture beyond the Moon and into deep space.

The proposed NRHO orbit would allow lunar expeditions from the Gateway to reach a polar low lunar orbit with a delta-v of 730 m/s and a half a day of transit time. Orbital station-keeping would require less than 10 m/s of delta-v per year, and the orbital inclination could be shifted with a relatively small delta-v expenditure, allowing access to most of the lunar surface.[28]

The Gateway could conceivably also support in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) development and testing from lunar and asteroid sources,[29] and would offer the opportunity for gradual buildup of capabilities for more complex missions over time.[30] Various components of the Gateway would be launched on commercial launch vehicles and on the Space Launch System as Orion co-manifested payloads on the Artemis 4 through Artemis 8 missions.[31] According to Roscosmos, they may also use Proton-M and Angara-A5M heavy launchers to fly payloads or crew.[7]

All modules will be connected using the International Docking System Standard.[32]

Proposed modules

The concept for the lunar Gateway is still evolving, and is currently intended to include the following modules:[33]

  • The European System Providing Refuelling, Infrastructure and Telecommunications (ESPRIT) module will provide additional xenon and hydrazine capacity, additional communications equipment, and an airlock for science packages.[34] It would have a mass of approximately 4 t (8,800 lb), and a length of 3.91 m (12.8 ft).[35]
  • The International Partner Habitat and the Minimal Habitation Module are the two habitation modules. The International Partner Habitat will be launched on Artemis 4 or Artemis 5 and together will provide a minimum of 125 m3 (4,400 cu ft) of habitable volume to the station.[34]
  • The Gateway Logistics Modules will be used to refuel, resupply and provide logistics on board the space station. The first logistics module sent to LOP-G will also arrive with a robotic arm, which will be built by the Canadian Space Agency.[36][37]
  • The Gateway Airlock Module will be used for performing extravehicular activities outside the space station and would have the docking port for the proposed Deep Space Transport.

Proposed timeline

Year Vehicle assembly objective Mission name Launch vehicle Human/robotic elements
Q4 2022[38] Launch of the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE)[39] TBA Commercial launch vehicle[21][40] Uncrewed
2023 ESPRIT and US Utilization Module[41] TBA Commercial launch vehicle Uncrewed
2023 Three components of an expendable lunar lander[42] TBA Commercial launch vehicles Uncrewed
2024 Orion docking to the Gateway, followed by a lunar landing and return to the Gateway[41] Artemis 3 Space Launch System, Block 1B Crewed
2025 Orion will deliver the U.S. Habitation module; lunar landing. Artemis 4 Space Launch System, Block 1B Crewed
2026 Orion will deliver U.S. Habitat; lunar landing Artemis 5 Space Launch System, Block 1B Crewed
2027 Orion will deliver the first logistics module and the robotic arm[34] Artemis 6 Space Launch System, Block 1B Crewed
2028 Deliver a logistics module Artemis 8 Space Launch System, Block 1B Uncrewed


Deep Space Habitat concept.


An earlier NASA proposal for a cislunar station had been made public in 2012 and was dubbed the Deep Space Habitat. That proposal had led to funding in 2015 under the NextSTEP program to study the requirements of deep space habitats.[43] In February 2018, it was announced that the NextSTEP studies and other ISS partner studies would help to guide the capabilities required of the Gateway's habitation modules.[44]

On 27 September 2017, an informal joint statement on cooperation between NASA and Russia's Roscosmos was announced.[7] The solar electric Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) of the Gateway was originally a part of the now cancelled Asteroid Redirect Mission.[45][19]

On 7 November 2017, NASA asked the global science community to submit concepts for scientific studies that could take advantage of the Gateway's location in cislunar space.[5] The Deep Space Gateway Concept Science Workshop was held in Denver, Colorado from February 27 to March 1, 2018. This three-day conference was a workshop where 196 presentations were given for possible scientific studies that could be advanced through the use of the Gateway.[46]

In 2018, NASA initiated a Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) competition for universities to develop concepts and capabilities for the Gateway. The competitors are asked to employ original engineering and analysis in one of the following areas:

  • Gateway Uncrewed Utilization & Operations
  • Gateway-Based Human Lunar Surface Access
  • Gateway Logistics as a Science Platform
  • Design of a Gateway-Based Cislunar Tug

Teams of undergraduate and graduate students were asked to submit a response by 17 January 2019 addressing one of these four themes. NASA will select 20 teams to continue developing proposed concepts. Fourteen of the teams presented their projects in person in June 2019 at the RASC-AL Forum in Cocoa Beach, Florida, receiving a $6,000 stipend to participate in the Forum.[1] "Lunar Exploration and Access to Polar Regions" from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez was the winning concept.[47]

Power and propulsion

On 1 November 2017, NASA commissioned 5 studies lasting four months into affordable ways to develop the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE), hopefully leveraging private companies' plans. These studies had a combined budget of $2.4 million. The companies performing the PPE studies are Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada and Space Systems/Loral.[48][19] These awards are in addition to the ongoing set of NextSTEP-2 awards made in 2016 to study development and make ground prototypes of habitat modules that could be used on the Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway as well as other commercial applications,[4] so the LOP-G is likely to incorporate components developed under NextSTEP as well.[19][49]

NASA officials stated that the most likely ion engine to be used on the PPE is the 14 kW Hall thruster called Advanced Electric Propulsion System (AEPS) which has an Isp of up to 2,600 s. The engine is being developed by Glenn Research Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Aerojet Rocketdyne.[50] Four identical AEPS engines would consume the 50 kW generated.[50]

In 2019, the contract to manufacture the PPE was awarded to a division of Maxar Technologies (formerly SSL).[51] After a one-year demonstration period, NASA would then "exercise a contract option to take over control of the spacecraft."[52]


The lunar Gateway has received criticisms from several space professionals as lacking a proper, focused scientific goal. NASA officials promote the Gateway as a "reusable command module" that could direct activities on the lunar surface.[53]

In May 2018, three major criticisms were aired. Former NASA Astronaut Terry W. Virts, who was a pilot of STS-130 aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour and Commander of the International Space Station on Expedition 43, wrote in an Op-ed on Ars Technica that the lunar Gateway would "shackle human exploration, not enable it". Terry stated that there is no concrete human spaceflight goal with the Gateway and that he cannot envision a new technology that would be developed or validated by building another modular space station. Terry further criticized NASA for abandoning its planned goal of separating crew from cargo, which was put in place following the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003.[54] Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin, who has consistently advocated a human mission to Mars, called the lunar Gateway "NASA's worst plan yet" in an article in the National Review. Zubrin went on to state that, in his opinion, the proposed Gateway would not be useful to go to the Moon, Mars, near-Earth asteroids, or any other possible destination. He also stated that the ISS could accomplish many of the goals for the Gateway, and that "there is nothing at all in lunar orbit". Zubrin also stated that "If the goal is to build a Moon base, it should be built on the surface of the Moon. That is where the science is, that is where the shielding material is, and that is where the resources to make propellant and other useful things are to be found."[55] Retired aerospace engineer Gerald Black stated that the "LOP-G is useless for supporting human return to the lunar surface and a lunar base." He added that it was not planned to be used as a rocket fuel depot and that stopping at LOP-G on the way to or from the Moon would serve no useful purpose and cost propellant.[56]

In July 2018, Pei Zhaoyu, deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration, concluded that, from a cost-benefit standpoint, the gateway would have "lost cost-effectiveness."[57] Pei said the Chinese plan is to focus on a research station on the surface.[58]

In December 2018, four major criticisms were aired. Michael D. Griffin, a former NASA administrator, said that in his opinion, the Gateway can be useful only after there are facilities on the Moon producing propellant that could be transported to the Gateway. Griffin thinks that after that is achieved, the Gateway would then best serve as a fuel depot.[53] Former Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin stated that he is "quite opposed to the Gateway" and that "using the Gateway as a staging area for robotic or human missions to the lunar surface is absurd." Aldrin also questioned the benefit of "send[ing] a crew to an intermediate point in space, pick[ing] up a lander there and go[ing] down" On the other hand, Aldrin expressed support for Robert Zubrin's Moon Direct concept which involves lunar landers traveling from Earth orbit to the lunar surface and back.[59] Former NASA Astronauts Eileen Collins, who was a Space Shuttle pilot and commander, and Harrison Schmitt, who was Lunar Module pilot aboard Apollo 17, criticized NASA's plans for not being ambitious enough. Although they did not mention the Gateway directly, Collins stated that "2028 for humans on the moon seems like it's so far off" and that "we can do it sooner", while Schmitt stated that "the pace of the proposed program didn't match what took place under Apollo."[59] Mark Whittington, who is a contributor to The Hill newspaper and an author of several space exploration studies, stated in an article that the "lunar orbit project doesn’t help us get back to the Moon". Whittington also pointed out that a lunar orbiting space station was not utilized during the Apollo program and that a "reusable lunar lander could be refueled from a depot on the lunar surface and left in a parking orbit between missions without the need for a big, complex space station."[60]

In February 2019, the astrophysicist Ethan Siegel wrote an article in Forbes titled "NASA's Idea For A Space Station In Lunar Orbit Takes Humanity Nowhere". Siegel stated that "Orbiting the Moon represents barely incremental progress; the only scientific 'advantages' to being in lunar orbit as opposed to low-Earth orbit are twofold: 1. You're outside of the Van Allen belts. 2. You're closer to the lunar surface," reducing the time delay. His final opinion was that the Lunar Gateway is "a great way to spend a great deal of money, advancing science and humanity in no appreciable way."[61]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Jackson, Shanessa (11 September 2018). "Competition Seeks University Concepts for Gateway and Deep Space Exploration Capabilities". NASA. Retrieved 19 September 2018. 
  2. Gebhardt, Chris (6 April 2017). "NASA finally sets goals, missions for SLS – eyes multi-step plan to Mars". NASA Spaceflight. Retrieved 19 September 2018. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Kathryn Hambleton. "Deep Space Gateway to Open Opportunities for Distant Destinations". NASA. Retrieved April 5, 2017. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Robyn Gatens, Jason Crusan. "Cislunar Habitation & Environmental Control & Life Support System". NASA. Retrieved March 31, 2017. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Mahoney, Erin (24 August 2018). "NASA Seeks Ideas for Scientific Activities Near the Moon". NASA. Retrieved 19 September 2018. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Weitering, Hanneke (27 September 2017). "NASA and Russia Partner Up for Crewed Deep-Space Missions". Retrieved 2017-11-05. 
  8. "Gateway Memorandum for the Record". NASA. 2 May 2018. Retrieved 19 September 2018. 
  9. Davis, Jason (February 26, 2018). "Some snark (and details!) about NASA's proposed lunar space station" (in en-US). The Planetary Society. Archived from the original on February 26, 2018. Retrieved February 26, 2018. 
  10. Yuhas, Alan (2018-02-12). "Trump's Nasa budget: flying 'Jetson cars' and a return to the moon" (in en). 
  11. Foust, Jeff (June 12, 2018). "Senate bill restores funding for NASA science and technology demonstration missions" (in en-US). Space News. Retrieved September 16, 2018. 
  12. "NASA just got its best budget in a decade" (in en). 
  13. Greicius, Tony (2016-09-20). "JPL Seeks Robotic Spacecraft Development for Asteroid Redirect Mission". 
  14. "NASA closing out Asteroid Redirect Mission" (in en-US). 2017-06-14. 
  15. "Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission". 
  16. "Deep Space Gateway & Transport: Concepts for Mars, Moon Exploration Unveiled | Space Exploration |" (in en-US). 
  17. Clark, Stephen. "NASA chooses Maxar to build keystone module for lunar Gateway station – Spaceflight Now" (in en-US). 
  18. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 NASA issues study contracts for Deep Space Gateway element. Jeff Foust, Space News. 3 November 2017.
  19. Chris Gebhardt. "NASA finally sets goals, missions for SLS – eyes multi-step plan to Mars". Retrieved April 9, 2017. 
  20. 21.0 21.1 "NASA FY 2019 Budget Overview".  Quote: "Supports launch of the Power and PropulsionElement on a commercial launch vehicle as the first component of the LOP - Gateway, (page 14)
  21. NASA considers acquiring more than one gateway propulsion module. Joe Faust, Space News. 30 March 2018.
  22. Jeff Foust (May 23, 2019). "NASA selects Maxar to build first Gateway element". SpaceNews. Retrieved May 23, 2019. 
  23. Stephen Clark (May 24, 2019). "NASA chooses Maxar to build keystone module for lunar Gateway station". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved July 13, 2019. 
  24. "GATEWAY PROGRAM MODULE(S) Continued use of NextSTEP-2 Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) Appendix A". NASA. Retrieved 23 July 2019. 
  26. Mike Wall, 10 September 2018.
  27. Whitley, Ryan; Martinez, Roland (21 October 2015). "Options for Staging Orbits in Cis-Lunar Space". NASA. Retrieved 19 September 2018. 
  28. Research Possibilities Beyond Deep Space Gateway. David Smitherman, Debra Needham, Ruthan Lewis. NASA. February 28, 2018.
  29. Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate - Architecture Status. (PDF) Jim Free. NASA. 28 March 2017.
  30. Godwin, Curt (April 1, 2017). "NASA's human spaceflight plans come into focus with announcement of Deep Space Gateway". Spaceflight Insider. Retrieved 2017-04-02. 
  31. NASA Unveils the Keys to Getting Astronauts to Mars and Beyond. Neel V. Patel, The Inverse. April 4, 2017.
  32. Cursan, Jason (March 27, 2018). "Future Human Exploration Planning:Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway and Science Workshop Findings". 
  33. 34.0 34.1 34.2 Sloss, Philip (September 11, 2017). "NASA updates Lunar Gateway plans". 
  34. ESA develops logistics vehicle for cis-lunar outpost. Anatoly Zak, Russian Space Web. September 8, 2018.
  35. Mortillaro, Nicole (February 28, 2019). "Canada's heading to the moon: A look at the Lunar Gateway" (in en). CBC News. Retrieved March 2, 2019. 
  36. "Canadian Space Agency to build robotic arms for lunar space station" (in en). Global News. 
  37. Foust, Jeff (27 February 2019). "Shutdown to delay first element of NASA’s lunar Gateway". Spacenews. Retrieved 28 February 2019. "NASA stated in the procurement filing that it expects “a corresponding shift in the target launch date from September 2022 to no later than December 31, 2022.”" 
  38. Daines, Gary (December 1, 2016). "Crew Will Mark Important Step on Journey to Mars". Retrieved 2 January 2018. 
  39. Status of Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) for Gateway. (PDF) Michele Gates, NASA's NAC HEO Committee Meeting August 27, 2018.
  40. 41.0 41.1 "NASA's roadmap for Artemis" (in en-US). 2019-05-23. 
  41. Foust 2019, "And before NASA sends astronauts to the moon in 2024, the agency will first have to launch five aspects of the lunar Gateway, all of which will be commercial vehicles that launch separately and join each other in lunar orbit. First, a power and propulsion element will launch in 2022. Then, the crew module will launch (without a crew) in 2023. In 2024, during the months leading up to the crewed landing, NASA will launch the last critical components: a transfer vehicle that will ferry landers from the Gateway to a lower lunar orbit, a descent module that will bring the astronauts to the lunar surface, and an ascent module that will bring them back up to the transfer vehicle, which will then return them to the Gateway."
  42. Doug Messier on (August 11, 2016). "A Closer Look at NextSTEP-2 Deep Space Habitat Concepts". Parabolic Arc. Retrieved September 19, 2018. 
  43. Warner, Cheryl (2 May 2018). "NASA's Lunar Outpost will Extend Human Presence in Deep Space". NASA. Retrieved 19 September 2018. 
  44. NASA Seeks Information on Developing Deep Space Gateway Module. Jeff Foust, Space. 29 July 2017.
  45. "Program and Presenter Information". Universities Space Research Association. Retrieved 19 September 2018. 
  46. "Students Blaze New Trails in NASA Space Exploration Design Competition". 21 June 2019. 
  47. Jimi Russell. "NASA Selects Studies for Gateway Power and Propulsion Element". Retrieved November 2, 2017. 
  48. Erin Mahoney. "NextSTEP Partners Develop Ground Prototypes to Expand our Knowledge of Deep Space Habitats". NASA. Retrieved November 6, 2017. 
  49. 50.0 50.1 Overview of the Development and Mission Application of the Advanced Electric Propulsion System (AEPS). (PDF). Daniel A. Herman, Todd A. Tofil, Walter Santiago, Hani Kamhawi, James E. Polk, John S. Snyder, Richard R. Hofer, Frank Q. Picha, Jerry Jackson and May Allen. NASA; NASA/TM—2018-219761. 35th International Electric Propulsion Conference. Atlanta, Georgia, October 8–12, 2017. Accessed: 27 July 2018.
  50. NASA Awards Artemis Contract for Lunar Gateway Power, Propulsion Nasa, 23 May 2019
  51. NASA updates Lunar Gateway plans. Philip Sloss, NASA 11 September 2018.
  52. 53.0 53.1 Is the Gateway the right way to the moon? Jeff Foust, Space News. 25 December 2018.
  53. "Op-ed: The Deep Space Gateway would shackle human exploration, not enable it". Ars Technica. Retrieved May 20, 2018. 
  54. "NASA’s Worst Plan Yet". National Review. Retrieved May 20, 2018. 
  55. The Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway: an unneeded and costly diversion. Gerald Black, The Space Review. 14 May 2018.
  56. Berger, Eric. "Chinese space official seems unimpressed with NASA’s lunar gateway". Retrieved 17 July 2018. 
  57. Kapoglou, Angeliki. "". Retrieved 17 July 2018. 
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  59. Whittington, Mark. "NASA’s unnecessary $504 million lunar orbit project doesn’t help us get back to the Moon". Retrieved 20 December 2018. 
  60. Siegel, Ethan. "NASA's Idea For A Space Station In Lunar Orbit Takes Humanity Nowhere". Retrieved 15 February 2019. 

External links